I read a blog about the Red Bull Gospel on Out of Ur, though it originally came from elsewhere. They were talking about youth groups and how, in our attempt to make them not boring, they have at times lost their spiritual content, to a great extent. I don’t think that’s true at our church, but I can see how it can happen. Much of it refers back to some Barna research that claims that over 80% of kids raised in church will leave by 29. Scary stuff, considering I have two teenagers. On the other hand, I really do trust that God will take care of them. I think I must have learned to do that when my mother was dying and I had to sometimes leave them to their own devices while dealing with some crisis. We had an update on that last fall, when my husband had an emergency appendectomy while out of town and the surgeon summoned me up there. They had to feed themselves and the pets and get themselves to school on their own. They did fine.
The original blog seemed to be of the opinion that the reason these kids were not staying in the church was because their youth groups failed to ground them in their faith. I can see this with the way they described the youth groups as primarily based on entertainment. But I wonder if it isn’t too simplistic. First of all, I’d love to see some statistics going back to the 70s when I was in youth group. I suspect that the numbers haven’t changed all that much. I also suspect that a portion of those who disappear by 29 come back later in life, when they have kids, or perhaps at some point where they realize that things other than God do not satisfy them after all.
I recall reading an article some time ago that addressed that very topic, of why our young people leave the church. I don’t know where it is, so I’m just going on memory here, but as I recall, some left due to disillusionment with the teachings. I think that was a small number. Others left due to relationships frowned on by the church. But the vast majority left because they were hurt by other members of the church or even by church leaders. It sure seems like relationships of all sorts can be problematic in many churches.
One comment to the blog got my attention too. She observed that for many kids, first the friendships formed in youth group simply dissolve as the kids go many different directions. Then many find that there are people they enjoy spending time with, who are not necessarily Christians. As she put it, the church seemed to have lied about what they could expect, at least where it came to sex and marriage. The world does not necessarily come to an end for those who have sex out of wedlock. For those who do wait, Mr. or Ms. right may not come along. Others get married only to find it not as blissful as they expected. I might add, that struggles to find the right vocation can be an issue as well. For every one who falls right into the right job, there are many who are unhappy in wrong ones. Assuming they sincerely prayed for guidance in their search, I can understand why this leads to doubts. I think the church as a whole could certainly improve on the wisdom they are offering the kids in both areas.
I believe her final point was that the church did a very poor job of dealing with issues common to many youth group kids, such as abuse or addiction. I think the church as a whole does have a lot of growing to do in how it handles brokenness. Ideally it would be a healing place, but unfortunately many are not. I suspect that if the older generations began to come to Jesus and be healed, that would change how they relate to the younger members. In some places that is actually happening and I hope the disaffected young people begin to find them.
We would all do well to seek God’s face on how to improve our relationships within our church families. We could surely spend more time listening to our youth and less time pontificating about how things should be. Of course, I’m not at all sure how to do this, or whether I do it well even in my own family. I do wish that we could find ways to share how we have learned to relate better to those who are hard to handle, or simply how we learned to keep our faith in the midst of all the mess that life sometimes throws at us. We surely should not be implying to our kids, that if they just follow the right path that everything will be hunky-dory. If we are honest, we can admit that a lot of life involves struggle, not just because most growth comes out of struggle, but also because there is always someone fighting against us, trying to take our eyes off of Jesus.
My point here was supposed to lead to my own experiences of my twenties. It’s pretty long already, so I don’t want to go into too much detail, but all I can say is I hear them. I found life quite disillusioning in my 20s. I couldn’t begin to find a job or even a direction that would lead to one that suited me. Romance seemed to elude me, in fact, I often went years simply between dates. The one relationship I did manage, was at best unapproved by the church, since the guy was not a Christian. In the end, it didn’t lead anywhere except to more brokenness. And yes, I did leave the church, mainly over the fact that the one I had gone to kept taking my Sunday school teachers to start young married classes! It sure seemed as though they did not value those of us who were single, whether or not it was by choice. But I never lost my faith and God was still with me. By 32 though, I was at a different place in life and I came back to church, not the same one, but the one I had grown up in. Oddly enough, it seemed to be a more welcoming place than I had remembered, and though many of the people there were not ones from my growing up years, they were still people of faith.
I hope all those struggling with these issues will go to Jesus for healing. Perhaps in the process He will also lead you back into community, and you will find it a more welcoming place. Feel free to share your stories in the comments.